Libya: Allied Forces Begin Military Action Against Gaddafi Forces: UPDATED

19 Mar

Allied fighter jets have taken to the skies over Libya after leader Muammar Gaddafi apparently defied the UN’s demand that he stop attacking his own people.

Cameron: ‘The Time For Action Has Come’ Play video

British ships are also involved in a naval blockade of the country, sources told Sky News, as the world launched a co-ordinated response based on an earlier UN resolution to protect Libyan civilians.

Around twenty French warplanes are patrolling the skies over Libya and some have reportedly fired at several pro-Gaddafi vehicles.

A French defence official earlier confirmed one of their jets had fired on a Libyan military vehicle.

The initiation of military action was revealed by Western leaders, following a summit in Paris to decide how to deal with what they said was the dictator’s breach of a self-imposed ceasefire.

Reports say the rebel stronghold of Benghazi has been attacked by Gaddafi’s militia, and the insurgents claim a captured warplane was shot down.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said: “The time for action has come and it needs to be urgent.

“Colonel Gaddafi has made this happen – he lied to the international community.”

French President Nicolas Sarkozy added that military force would be used “in the absence of an immediate ceasefire” because “the Libyan people need our help.”

Observers now believe selected targets in Libya will be hit within the next 24 hours.

Reports said Libyan forces intend to deploy ‘human shields’ to thwart any UN-backed bombing campaign.

State news agency Jana reported that civilians were converging on government facilities believed to be bombing targets for an impending UN-backed air intervention force.

Sky’s Lisa Holland, reporting from the Libyan capital of Tripoli under government restrictions, said: “I cannot independently confirm the claim of human shields but if it is true it is a worrying development that shows the regime will stop at nothing.”

The rebel pilot of the fighter jet, which may have been shot down or suffered catastrophic engine failure, ejected moments it crashed in a fireball in Benghazi’s southern suburbs.

Sky’s Emma Hurd, who witnessed the crash, said: “It had been circling above the heavily populated areas and then it went into a fast dive and caught on fire.”

A Benghazi resident named Sam later claimed the city was being hit by rocket fire from ground forces loyal to Libyan dictator Colonel Gaddafi.

She told Sky News: “Benghazi has been under continuous bombing since around 6am this morning – it was non-stop and the windows were shaking.

“Their troops have been bombing civilian areas with no military facilities… Civilians are being attacked in Benghazi.”

But a government official insisted military forces were not being used to attack the city on Saturday, amid claims of 25 dead being taken to the city’s hospitals.

Sky News foreign editor Tim Marshall also revealed that paucity of information coming from the city of 675,000 people.

“We have very little factual detail coming out of Benghazi, instead we have claim and counter-claim,” Marshall said.

“Just as the Libyan forces are capable of using propaganda, the rebel forces are prepared to use it too, in an attempt to draw in outside forces to help their cause.”

Libya declared a ceasefire on Friday after the UN authorised the no-fly zone over the country.

Deputy foreign minister Khaled Kaim told Holland: “We are categorically denying there is any military operation on the ground (in the city of Benghazi) since we announced the decision has been made to cease fire.”

Regime spokesman Ibrahim Moussa later said the Gaddafi’s government remained defiant about the threat of military action.

Mr Moussa also denied government forces shelled any Libyan towns today, saying the rebels were the ones breaking the ceasefire by attacking military forces.

Reading from a letter sent by the dictator to Mr Cameron, Mr Sarkozy and the UN secretary general, he said: “You will regret it if you take a step towards intervening in our internal affairs, in our country.

“The UN security council is not authorised, according to the UN charter, to intervene in the internal affairs of any country.”

Col Gaddafi insisted the rebels are Islamists and said in the statement: “We are fighting al Qaeda, in what they call the Islamic Maghreb.”

Libya’s oil minister warned Western companies under contract to continue operating in the country otherwise Chinese and Indian oil firms may be given those rights.

:: A resident of the western town of Misratah told Reuters Gaddafi’s forces were on the outskirts of the rebel town and water supplies had been cut off.

NEWS UPDATE:

CORRECTION TO CLARIFY - WE ARE UNABLE TO VERIFY WHO SHOT PLANE DOWN AND ALSO WHO WAS PILOTING PLANE - ALTERNATIVE CROP - A doomed warplane plummets to
 AP – CORRECTION TO CLARIFY – WE ARE UNABLE TO VERIFY WHO SHOT PLANE DOWN AND ALSO WHO WAS PILOTING PLANE – …

Anti-government protests in Libya Slideshow:Anti-government protests in Libya

Fighter jet shot down over Benghazi Play Video Video:Fighter jet shot down over Benghazi Reuters

Obama launches Latin America tour in Brazil Play Video Barack Obama Video:Obama launches Latin America tour in Brazil AFP

 
By RYAN LUCAS and HADEEL AL-SHALCHI, Associated Press Ryan Lucas And Hadeel Al-shalchi, Associated Press :

BENGHAZI, Libya – French fighter jets fired the first shots at Moammar Gadhafi’s troops on Saturday, launching the broadest international military effort since the Iraq war in support of an uprising that had seemed on the verge of defeat.

In the hours before the no-fly zone over Libya went into effect, Gadhafi sent warplanes, tanks and troops into Benghazi, the rebel capital and first city to fall to the rebellion that began Feb. 15. Then the government attacks appeared to go silent.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said after an emergency summit in Paris that French jets were already targeting Gadhafi’s forces. The 22 participants in Saturday’s summit agreed to do everything necessary to make Gadhafi respect a U.N. Security Council resolution Thursday demanding a cease-fire, Sarkozy said.

“Our consensus was strong, and our resolve is clear. The people of Libya must be protected, and in the absence of an immediate end to the violence against civilians our coalition is prepared to act, and to act with urgency,” President Barack Obama said in Brasilia, Brazil, on the first day of a three-country Latin American tour.

The rebels, who have seen their advances into western Libya turn into a series of defeats, said they had hoped for more, sooner from the international community, after a day when crashing shells shook the buildings of Benghazi and Gadhafi’s tanks rumbled through the university campus.

“People are disappointed, they haven’t seen any action yet. The leadership understands some of the difficulties with procedures but when it comes to procedures versus human lives the choice is clear,” said Essam Gheriani, a spokesman for the opposition. “People on the streets are saying where are the international forces? Is the international community waiting for the same crimes to be perpetrated on Benghazi has have been done by Gadhafi in the other cities?”

A doctor said 27 bodies had reached hospitals by midday. As night fell, though, the streets grew quiet.

Libyan state television showed Gadhafi supporters converging on the international airport and a military garrison in Tripoli, and the airport in Gadhafi’s hometown of Sirte, in an apparent attempt to deter bombing.

In an open letter, Gadhafi warned: “You will regret it if you dare to intervene in our country.”

In Paris, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Gadhafi’s government had lost all legitimacy and lied about the cease-fire.

“We have every reason to fear that left unchecked, Gadhafi will commit unspeakable atrocities,” she said.

Saturday’s emergency meeting involved 22 leaders and top officials, including Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and the foreign ministers of Jordan, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates. It was the largest international military action since the beginning of the Iraq war, launched almost exactly eight years ago.

Earlier Saturday, a plane was shot down over the outskirts of Benghazi, sending up a massive black cloud of smoke. An Associated Press reporter saw the plane go down in flames and heard the sound of artillery and crackling gunfire.

Before the plane went down, journalists heard what appeared to be airstrikes from it. Rebels cheered and celebrated at the crash, though the government denied a plane had gone down — or that any towns were shelled on Saturday.

The fighting galvanized the people of Benghazi, with young men collecting bottles to make gasoline bombs. Some residents dragged bed frames and metal scraps into the streets to make roadblocks.

“This city is a symbol of the revolution, it’s where it started and where it will end if this city falls,” said Gheriani.

But at Jalaa hospital, where the tile floors and walls were stained with blood, the toll was clear.

“There are more dead than injured,” said Dr. Ahmed Radwan, an Egyptian who had been there helping for three weeks.

Jalaa’s Dr. Gebreil Hewadi, a member of the rebel health committee, said city hospitals had received 27 bodies.

At a news conference in the capital, Tripoli, the government spokesman read letters from Gadhafi to Obama and others involved in the international effort.

“Libya is not yours. Libya is for the Libyans. The Security Council resolution is invalid,” he said in the letter to Sarkozy, British Prime Minister David Cameron, and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

To Obama, the Libyan leader was slightly more conciliatory: “If you had found them taking over American cities with armed force, tell me what you would do.”

In a joint statement to Gadhafi late Friday, the United States, Britain and France — backed by unspecified Arab countries — called on Gadhafi to end his troops’ advance toward Benghazi and pull them out of the cities of Misrata, Ajdabiya and Zawiya. It also called for the restoration of water, electricity and gas services in all areas. It said Libyans must be able to receive humanitarian aid or the “international community will make him suffer the consequences” with military action.

Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa said that Libyan officials had informed the U.N. and the Security Council that the government was abiding by the cease-fire it had announced Friday and called for a team of foreign observers to verify that.

“The nation is respecting all the commitments put on it by the international community,” he said, leaving the podium before answering any questions about Benghazi.

In the course of the rebellion, Libya has gone from a once-promising economy with the largest proven oil reserves in Africa to a country in turmoil. The foreign workers that underpinned the oil industry have fled; production and exports have all but ground to a halt; and its currency is down 30 percent in just two weeks.

The oil minister, Shukri Ghanem, held a news conference calling on foreign oil companies to send back their workers. He said the government would honor all its contracts.

“We are still considering all our contracts and agreements with the oil companies valid,” he said. “We hope from their part that they will honor their agreements, that they will send back their experts and their people to work.”

He suggested future decisions on oil deals would favor countries that did not join the international force against Gadhafi: “A friend in need is a friend indeed,” he told reporters in Tripoli.

Italy, which had been the main buyer for Libyan oil, offered the use of seven air and navy bases already housing U.S., NATO and Italian forces to enforce the no-fly zone over Libya.

Italy’s defense minister, Ignazio La Russa, said Saturday that Italy wasn’t just “renting out” its bases for others to use but was prepared to offer “moderate but determined” military support.

A French fighter jet fired Saturday on a Libyan military vehicle, the first reported offensive action in the international military operation against Gadhafi’s forces, French Defense Ministry spokesman Thierry Burkhard said.

Warplanes from the United States, Canada, Denmark arrived at Italian air bases Saturday as part of an international military buildup. Germany backed the operation but isn’t offering its own forces.

American ships and aircraft stationed in and around the Mediterranean Sea did not participate in the initial French air missions, but the U.S. prepared to a launch a missile attack on Libyan air defenses later Saturday, according to two U.S. officials familiar with the unfolding intervention. Both officials spoke on condition of because of the sensitivity of military operations.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said after the summit: “The time for action has come, it needs to be urgent.”

___

Al-Shalchi contributed from Tripoli, Libya. Associated Press writers Ben Hubbard in Cairo; Nicole Winfield in Rome; Jamey Keaten in Paris; and Robert Burns in Washington also contributed to this report.

NEWS UPDATE:

Here’s a look at some of the international military assets in or heading to the region to help enforce the U.N.-sanctioned no-fly zone over Libya:

France:

_Deployed a dozen Mirage and Rafale jets to survey rebel-held Benghazi, one fired on a Libyan military vehicle in first military strike of operation.

_Deploying the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier to the region Sunday from Toulon.

Canada:

_Sent six F-18s to Italy base; 140 military personnel involved.

_Frigate HMCS Charlottetown is in Mediterranean for possible staging ground for Canadian forces.

United States:

_Prepared to launch missile attacks on Libyan air defenses but so far not participating in initial air missions.

_Has two guided-missile destroyers in the Mediterranean, the USS Barry and USS Stout, two amphibious warships, the USS Kearsarge and USS Ponce, and a command-and-control ship, the USS Mount Whitney. The submarine USS Providence was also in the Mediterranean.

_Witnesses reported five F-18s, two C-17s and a C-130 cargo plane arrived at U.S. air base at Aviano in northern Italy, which is home to the 31st Fighter Wing.

Denmark:

_Six F-16s arrived at U.S. air base in Sigonella, Sicily and could be deployed as early as Sunday; 132 support staff.

Italy:

_Offered use of seven military bases: U.S. air bases at Sigonella, Sicily and Aviano in northern Italy; Italian air bases in Amendola near Foggia, Decimomannu in Sardinia, Gioia del Colle near Bari, base on Sicilian island of Pantelleria, and the military airport of Trapani, Sicily.

_Proposed NATO base in Naples serve as coordination point for operation.

Spain:

_Sent four F-18s and a Boeing 707 refueling plane to Italy base.

_Deploying a submarine, naval frigate and a surveillance plane.

_Placed two bases at NATO’s disposal, Rota and Moron de la Frontera, where several U.S. Air Force planes were seen Friday.

Britain:

_Said it would send Typhoon and Tornado jets to air bases, but no British fighter assets have yet been deployed, the Ministry of Defense said.

_Britain’s air base in southern Cyprus, RAF Akrotiri, supporting AWACS surveillance aircraft and has a team of personnel there to coordinate British aircraft movement.

_Two British frigates, HMS Westminster and HMS Cumberland, are in the Mediterranean off Libya’s coast ready to assist.

Norway:

_Offered six F-16s, with around 100 support staff, but operational capabilities five-six days off.

_Considering contributing an Orion maritime surveillance plane.

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